Tap into Blandford Nature Center

by Bri Kilroy

Words like “digital breakthroughs” and “social media presence” have become more consistent in our vocabulary, but so has the phrase “get back to nature,” a common saying referring to an elixir against technology overload. City-living offers more opportunities to learn about digital trends than exploring the fundamental practices of our ancestors, but Grand Rapids is fortunate enough to give residents and visitors the ability to shuffle between urban and rural settings, and the Blandford Nature Center has served as the ultimate place to “get back to nature” for the last 50 years.

“There are not many opportunities [to explore nature] in an urban city,” Blandford’s Community Program Manager Renee Baker said. “Having Blandford Nature Center within city limits provides a unique opportunity.”

Those opportunities flourish in both Blandford’s 264 acres of property, along with its education programs that alter topics throughout the seasons. March lays the groundwork for sugarbush education that culminates into the Sugarbush Festival, March 24, from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.

The Sugarbush Festival is sprinkled with hands-on opportunities that allows attendees to experience tapping sugar from the very trees that could be in their backyard. When it comes to figuring out if you’re hosting such a tree, Blandford’s Sugarbush Tour (March 10, 2-3:30 p.m.) has some tips for identifying these sweet saplings. Attendees will also log some practice tapping the trees while learning how the Native Americans and Pioneers did it before us.

Deeper dives into how initial settlers harnessed maple are formatted into Blandford’s sugarbush-focused classes like Pioneer Sugaring and Maple Moon. In these classess, partipants learn about tapping practices of Michigan’s early settlers, as well as those of our native populations.

There are still spots left for the Maple Moon class (March 17, 2-3:30 p.m.), where attendees hear the legend of a young boy who saved his tribe by discovering the miracle within maple trees, and enjoy a sweet treat made with the substance.

Nestled among the opportunities to learn more about the sweet, thick topping that transforms starchy circles into pancakes is the duel celebration of Blandford’s 50th Anniversary and Founder Mary Jane Dockeray’s 91st Birthday on March 10, from 9:30 until 11:30 a.m. The Visitor Center Auditorium, found by following Hillburn Avenue off of Leonard Street to the parking lot, is the party spot for such a grand celebration. The capacity welcomes up to 150 guests for this ticketed event that kicks off with the chance to meet Dockeray, “the woman who started it all,” and indulge in a pancake breakfast. Tickets can be purchased on Eventbrite.com by searching “Blandford Nature Center.”

Register for classes that spark your interest at Blandfordnaturecenter.org, or join them for the Sugarbush Festival or their 50th Anniversary Celebration. The Blandford Nature Center has room for all ages and intrigue.

What: Blandford Nature Center Education Classes and 50th Anniversary Celebration
Where: Blandford Nature Center, 1715 Hillburn Ave. NW
Sugarbush Classes: Throughout March.
50th Anniversary Celebration and Mary Jane Dockeray’s Birthday: March 10, 9:30-11:30 a.m.
Sugarbush Festival: March 24, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Classes: $3/members. $6/non-members.
50th Anniversary Celebration and Mary Jane Dockeray’s Birthday: $50 at Eventbrite.com.
Sugarbush Festival: $5/members. $8/non-members.

Bri Kilroy is a Grand Valley and AmeriCorps alumna who learned to type through vigorous Mavis Beacon trainings. She also passes as an artist, illustrator and author of this bio.

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